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When Are You Too Old for a Colonoscopy?

Colon cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease older people developed, and many seniors think they must undergo all types of medical tests and screenings because they are older. The truth is you might be wrong about that. Keep reading to find out the facts. When are you too old for a colonoscopy?

Colon Cancer Seen in Younger Individuals

dark blue ribbon in man's palms.

The last several decades have shown that colon cancer is showing up in folks who are closer to middle age. In fact, the recommended age to begin having a colonoscopy has changed from age 50 to age 45 in an attempt to catch cancer early. If you have higher risks for colorectal cancer, like having a close relative with colon or rectum cancer, you should be screened even earlier than age 45.

The reasons for this are not completely understood, but it could have something to do with our diets and fast food convenience. Sedentary lifestyle and obesity are more prevalent, and many of these are considered risk factors.

Balancing the Benefits vs the Risks

A very recent study conducted among almost 10,000 seniors between the ages of 70 and 85 looked at whether those in this age group should continue to have “surveillance” colonoscopies. This was especially to look at those who had previous precancerous adenomas that were removed. The results showed that less than 1% of colonoscopies in older patients found any cancers.

Guidelines don’t clearly stipulate how long a patient should continue to have “surveillance” colonoscopies after a precancerous adenoma is removed.

It is believed more harm than good can come from having a colonoscopy at an advanced age. 

Consider the following risks:

  • Bleeding
  • Perforation of the colon
  • Sedation-related problems
  • Infections
  • Heart attack
  • Abdominal pain
  • Stroke

Bleeding and a perforation of the colon are the most common issues. 

To Screen or Not to Screen?

Talk with Colorectal Wellness Center in Fayetteville, GA about having a colonoscopy after age 75. For some people, a colonoscopy after age 75 is not recommended. Screening for patients between age 75 and 85 should be made on a case-by-case basis. This is dependent on comorbidities and heart health.

For some older adults who have a life expectancy of 10 years or more, and without significant comorbidities, they might benefit from screening.

Keep in mind that at-home stool tests are available and much less invasive.

Schedule a Colonoscopy Consultation in Atlanta, GA

Contact Dr. Erin King-Mullins at (770) 325-2275 to schedule an appointment at our colorectal clinic in Fayetteville, GA and have a detailed discussion if you are concerned about having any additional screening tests for colorectal cancer.

Sources: 7 Colonoscopy Myths and Fast Facts – CheckIt4Andretti Foundation

Colon cancer screening: At what age can you stop? – Mayo Clinic

Colorectal Cancer Screening in People Over 75 – NCI

Colorectal cancer screening: At what age should I get a colonoscopy? | MD Anderson Cancer Center